PUNTA ARENAS, Chile — A climate window opened on Halloween morning, the standard stiff winds and polar fog relenting, and the flight to Antarctica was cleared for takeoff.
For practically every week, Colin O’Brady, a 33-year-old American journey athlete, and British Military Captain Louis Rudd, 49, had been ready in Punta Arenas, Chile, on the Strait of Magellan, close to the shattered finish of the South American continent.
In separate buildings blocks away from each other, they’d been immersed in related duties: weighing and re-bagging their freeze-dried provisions and sorting by polar-grade gear.
Their stashes included sleeping luggage good for circumstances as much as minus 40 Fahrenheit, transportable photo voltaic panels, cross-country skis, hand-held satellite tv for pc telephones and modems, and a GPS tracker programmed with means factors to steer them step by frozen step throughout the biggest, highest, driest and by far the coldest continent on earth.
The 2 males, who got here to this quest from very totally different backgrounds however solid a aggressive bond throughout their time in Chile, have been every decided to grow to be the primary individual to cross Antarctica alone with out help — a 921-mile odyssey on ice by blasting winds that would take as many as 65 days.
It’s a trek that killed a person two years in the past.
How One Journey Grew to become Two
For a lot of this yr, Rudd had been anticipating a one-man battle in opposition to nature. Now his wrestle has grow to be a race.
Rudd introduced in April that he would make the try. Then, in mid-October, with simply weeks to spare, O’Brady, who had additionally been making ready for months, revealed on Instagram that he deliberate to do the identical.
Each males hope to beat a continent that has grow to be the brand new Everest for excessive athletes, although they signify two vastly totally different approaches.
Rudd is extra of an old-school adventurer. He enlisted within the Royal Marines at age 16 and stays within the British armed forces. He fought in Kosovo, Iraq (three excursions) and Afghanistan (4 excursions).
“The best way I’ll console myself on this expedition is to remind myself that no person’s taking pictures at me,” Rudd deadpanned. “Clearly, Antarctica is harmful in its personal means, however I have a look at it as I’m extraordinarily lucky. I’ve had mates lose their limbs, eyes, actual life-changing stuff.”
Rudd was launched to polar exploration by one other English soldier, Lt. Col. Henry Worsley, a distant relative of Frank Worsley, the captain of Ernest Shackleton’s ill-fated journey to Antarctica within the early 20th century. In 2012, Rudd and Worsley traced Roald Amundsen’s 920-mile journey to the South Pole.
Not like the injuries of warfare, struggling in Antarctica, Rudd mentioned, “is non permanent.”
O’Brady is extra of the age, a seasoned journey athlete and budding social media star solid from harm and perseverance.
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He grew up in Portland, Ore., and swam at Yale. Whereas on a visit to Thailand in 2008, two years after graduating from faculty, he was in a freak accident that modified the course of his life.
His legs have been burned so severely that docs instructed O’Brady he would by no means stroll usually once more.
Eighteen months later, whereas dwelling in Chicago and dealing in finance, he determined to push his limits and signed up for an Olympic distance triathlon. He gained the newbie division.
O’Brady stop his day job, raced triathlons professionally for six years, and was on monitor for the Olympic trials. Be he left the game in 2014 to pursue the Explorers Grand Slam.
He climbed every of the “Seven Summits” (the best peak on every continent) and skied the final diploma to each poles in simply 139 days in 2016, claiming a world report that he nonetheless holds. This summer time, he climbed the excessive factors in all 50 states in simply 21 days, obliterating one other report — to the delight of his social media followers.
To arrange for the Antarctic trek, Rudd educated himself, placing in hours of powerlifting. Every night time after working a full day at his British Military base, he would drag a large truck tire alongside a riverbank for hours.
An expert coach, Mike McCastle, put O’Brady by an identical powerlifting routine at his gymnasium in Portland. O’Brady gained 15 kilos of muscle for his try. With a purpose to face up to the frigid components, he held lengthy planks along with his palms and toes, plunged in buckets of ice water. He then untied knots whereas his fingers have been nonetheless stiff and numb.
He calls his expedition “The Not possible First’’ and plans to point out a lot of it on social media (Rudd’s presence there may be minimal.)
“If I can’t, it’s not as enjoyable for me,” O’Brady mentioned. “I stand for breaking by boundaries. I’m an enormous believer that we should always uplift each other.” A TEDx Discuss he delivered in Portland final yr has been considered 1.2 million occasions on YouTube.
921 Miles of Unbroken Snow and Ice
Though there was some preliminary pressure between the adventurers, they agreed on a course starting on the Ronne Ice Shelf, setting off on Nov. 3. From there, they deliberate to ski onto Messner Glacier in western Antarctica and climb right into a crosswind from sea stage towards the Thiel Mountains, which rise like dorsal fins above an in any other case unbroken sea of snow and ice.
A dogleg to the southeast brings them to a latitude line they’ll comply with to the South Pole, climbing to an elevation of 9,301 toes. That journey alone is 651 miles. From there, they plan to descend Leverett Glacier and end on the Ross Ice Shelf, some two months after setting out.
All of the whereas, they are going to be dragging Nordic sleds, referred to as pulks, to haul all of their meals, cooking gas and tenting gear.
On Day 1, earlier than utilizing any provides, their pulks weighed roughly 375 kilos. The boys’s skis are coated in artificial skins for higher traction; working like glorified snowshoes, the skis assist distribute weight in a means that avoids punching by lethal crevasses.
For his or her crossing to qualify as unsupported, the rivals can not settle for any assist from the few people they could encounter — not a lot as a cup of tea from researchers on the famend Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station as they go by.
Although a handful of adventurers have used kites to trip the winds throughout the continent or organized for caches of meals and gas to be dropped alongside the way in which, the achieved English polar explorer Ben Saunders was the final to aim a solo, unsupported crossing. He selected a distinct route and tapped out after masking 805 miles in 2017.
The yr earlier than, Rudd’s good friend Worsley had made the identical valiant try. He coated greater than 900 miles however died from an an infection two days after being rescued from the ice, simply 30 miles from the end line.
After Worsley died, Rudd fielded a six-man group of English troopers to hint his journey, finishing it for him in 2017. They held a memorial service at Worsley’s closing campsite.
‘I Assume We’re Each Going to Make It’
Antarctic firsts don’t come low cost. The associated fee is steep in money and toil.
Rudd and O’Brady every raised upward of $200,000 from company sponsors and personal donors to make their makes an attempt.
Initially, their itinerary referred to as for a Nov. 1 departure from Punta Arenas, however honest climate should be seized, so at 8:47 a.m. on Oct. 31, the rivals boarded an Ilyushin cargo jet operated by Antarctic Logistics & Expeditions, a constitution firm that often brings explorers to Antarctica. The vacation spot was ALE’s base camp on Union Glacier.
On their method to the airport that morning, Rudd was relaxed and chatty but had some worries.
He had left his residence in Hereford, England, on Oct. 26, the day after his spouse, Lucy, had surprising surgical procedure. His 21-year outdated son was away with the military; his two daughters, ages 24 and 21, had tears of their eyes when he hugged them goodbye.
When the lads first arrived in Punta Arenas, there was a whole lot of pressure and mistrust. For months, Rudd had thought he can be competing in opposition to the weather and himself, not a stud athlete. Then O’Brady made his shock announcement.
The 2 met for the primary time within the cellar bar of Ernest Shackleton’s most well-liked lodge in southern Chile and bonded over a shared want to endure within the service of a grand journey.
The thaw between them continued, and the day after they landed in Union Glacier, they agreed on a correct head-to-head battle.
At round midday on Nov. 3, Rudd and O’Brady boarded a Twin Otter ski aircraft that took off over Mount Rossman and banked east. After a 90-minute flight, they landed on the Ronne Ice Shelf.
O’Brady obtained out first and picked up his gear. “Good luck,” Rudd instructed him, “I believe we’re each going to make it.”
They hugged goodbye, doubtless their final human contact for at the very least two months. Then, whereas O’Brady strapped into his sled, the aircraft drove a few mile away to Rudd’s parallel start line. (Meaning O’Brady technically had a few 10-minute head begin, however it’s going to doubtless show negligible over such an extended distance).
The Ronne Ice Shelf is 600-feet thick, floating within the ocean but fused to shore. They started three miles away from their first means level and the start of the Antarctic continent. That’s the place O’Brady arrange camp, on the lip of the continent, after a three-hour haul.
The sky was nonetheless blue — there are 24 hours of daylight within the Antarctic summer time — and it was a comparatively balmy minus 25 Fahrenheit (minus 32 Celsius), with no hint of wind.
Regardless of the great climate, O’Brady was content material to tempo himself and construct as much as the longer days forward. “When you get in that rhythm or routine, that move state begins to hit,” O’Brady mentioned from his satellite tv for pc cellphone.
However the climate won’t all the time be so favorable. Temperatures can drop under minus 50 Fahrenheit (minus 45 Celsius), even in summer time, and may a storm delay their progress and pressure them to stay of their tents for days, the rivals might run out of meals.
Each males introduced 5 days’ reserve, simply in case.
Different risks embody hypothermia, frostbite and a chafing situation generally known as polar thigh. Contaminated wounds fester as a result of the physique heals extra slowly within the chilly.
Winds have been measured at as much as practically 60 miles per hour on the polar plateau, and if a powerful gust carries away their tent, the journey will finish proper then.
Even milder winds can create whiteout circumstances, when snow swirls and a polar fog can blot out the sky and whip the snow’s floor into sastrugi: wavelike pace bumps that may prolong for miles and make hauling a heavy sled gradual going. Each males have fallen in crevasses on different expeditions.
Then once more, maybe their best menace can be each other.
With two rivals trying the crossing on the similar time, will they monitor one another’s progress too carefully? Push themselves previous the purpose of exhaustion into mortal hazard?
On their first day, Rudd went a bit tougher than O’Brady and skied 4.6 miles to seize an early lead. He maintained that edge for the following few days, however in practically whiteout circumstances Thursday, when each males needed to stare at compasses bracketed to their chests to remain on monitor, O’Brady marched 20 miles in 12 hours to catch Rudd. On Friday, once more in whiteout circumstances, he pushed previous Rudd and grabbed his first lead.
Whoever wins, if profitable, these two males can be ceaselessly linked in polar lore.
“Individuals have been making an attempt to do that for 100 years, and no person has efficiently performed it but,” O’Brady mentioned. “And listed here are two guys each pushing one another to hopefully conquer an unattainable feat.”